Sydney Opera House Ad Protest Recaptures the Public Realm


More than a thousand protesters gathered around the world heritage listed Sydney Opera House in outrage against the promotion of the multimillion-dollar Everest horse race on the building's sails.

Public outrage has been sparked by the concept of the cultural value of an Australian icon being used to promote the increasingly influential gambling industry, as well as the ongoing privatisation of public spaces through advertising.

Opera House managers declined the application by race organisers for the eye-catching barrier draw, but the NSW government intervened and overruled them arguing the race's commercial potential as "a huge tourist attraction that would bring in more than $100 million".

“We are promoting a unique Sydney event, The Everest, not gambling,” Racing NSW chief executive Peter V’landys said.

More than 300,000 people have signed a petition condemning the promotion, while the NSW National Trust has questioned whether the move was legal.

Related: Sydney Opera House Function Centre Upgrade Takes Centre Stage

The projection lasted about 30 minutes, with many gathering in an attempt to recapture the public realm while vocalising their anger towards corporate incursion and the promotion of gambling products.

Funding for public spaces and public infrastructure has been squeezed in recent months in New South Wales, with urban authorities contentiously opening up alternative revenue streams.

The divisive decision by NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian to overrule Opera House chief Louise Herron, allowing the advertising to run has also called into question corporate coercion of government officials.

“I don’t want NSW to fall behind because other cities and states are promoting these events,” NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian said.

“These are issues that we take on board.”

Deloitte estimates the Sydney Opera House contributes approximately $775 million annually to the Australian economy, and as a cultural and heritage icon, it has an estimated value of $2.1 billion.

Intervention forcing the Sydney Opera House to promote horse racing illustrates a growing frustration by citizens being forced to live in increasingly branded cities.

“They’ve gone with a decision that we think probably is not legal, it may be in breach of the Heritage Act,” National Trust NSW conservation director Graham Quint said.

Government leaders who have gambled to allow the promotion, may now have put their money on the wrong horse.

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